First Jews appeared in the settlement of Irena in the mid-19th century. A considerable number of settlers came here in the 60s from the nearby Bobrowniki village. Most of the town’s residents were Jewish and the Jewish quarter developed around the marketplace.
Soon, a new seat of the Hasidic dynasty came into existence there. Its founder was Izrael Taub, also known as Modzitzer rebbe – a composer of numerous tunes called nigunim”[1.1]. The local zaddik’s court was an important center of the Hasidic movement. Izrael Taub settled in Dęblin in 1889. He was a son of Samuel Elijah Taub from Zwoleń and a grandson of rebbe Ezekiel from Kazimierz Dolny. Taub founded the dynasty of Modzitz (Modrzyce), which was famous for its Hasidic tunes. The Hasidim of Dęblin attributed an essential role to tunes in prayers and ceremonies. Rebbe Izrael died in 1921. His son, rebbe Saul Zedidah Elazar, continued the traditions of the dynasty but later moved to Otwock[1.2].
Many Jews from Dęblin made their living from supplying the units stationed in the local fortress, which attracted others to settle in Dęblin-Irena. The development of a Hasidic center also influenced the Jewish settlement in the area.
The Dęblin Jews were generally occupied with trade and craft, offering services to the inhabitants of the settlement and the nearest villages, mainly during weekly markets and fairs that took place six times a year. Many Jews worked as blacksmiths, locksmiths, carpenters or as workers at a small steelworks set up a Jew called Henryk Limański in 1837.
From 1861 to 1873 Jews established more ironware works. Other Jews were engaged in tailoring, shoemaking and saddlery, using the products of local tanneries. As Dęblin-Irena was becoming a recreational center, some Jews earned their living offering their services to holidaymakers. The Jews from Dęblin also participated in the social life of the town. In the 1861 election for the local authorities two Jews were elected members of the twelve-person town council. In 1863, the Dęblin Jews supported the January Uprising. In 1884 the village’s population was 2,236 people, of which 2,031 were Jewish (90%).
Dęblin-Irena was dominated by Hasidic lifestyle, which concentrated around the court of the admor or Hasidic shtibels, mostly connected with the dynasty of Ger (Góra Kalwaria).
Among the rabbanim of Dęblin the household names are the one of rabbi Jakir, who was the main judge of the rabbinic court around 1880, rabbi Jacob, who was Jakir’s son, and Ze’ev Orner, who worked in the community from 1861 to 1906. His successor was rabbi Samuel Jakob Kopel ha-Kohen. In 1897, there lived 3,405 people in the village, of which 2,271 were Jewish (66%).
During World War I, after Dęblin was taken over by the Austrians, many Jews left the settlement. Among them was Rebbe Saul Zedidah Elazar, who moved out to Otwock, where he established his new court and remained there until the end of war. Unlike other communities in the vicinity, it was not until 1918 that Dęblin had any political groups or cultural institutions, such as schools, clubs or libraries[1.3].
In November 1918, general Haller’s army entered Dęblin and his soldiers persecuted Jews for many months. Cases of beatings of men and even women were recorded. Soldiers would cut off beards of Jews and confiscate their property. In 1919, a morbid accident occurred: four bodies of a Jew Rubinsztajn’s children were discovered near the village after they had been missing. For this reason Jewish Members of Parliament made a complaint to the Government in Warsaw and an investigation was undertaken. However, the investigators never solved the mystery of the murder. Nevertheless, the Jewish community was certain that anti-Semites were to blame for the crime.
Between the wars, numerous Jewish parties and organizations operated in the town. Soon after regaining independence, a branch of the General Zionists Party was formed here, as well as was a Poale Zion unit and the orthodox and Zionist Mizrachi party; a unit of the Agudat Israel orthodox party was organized in 1822. A Bund’s branch was also active, while a unit of the Revisionist Zionists was established here in the 1930s. In the 20s and 30s the kehilla council was dominated by the Agudath Israel and it was not until toward the end of the 1930s that a representative of Zionists was elected president. Youth organizations operated in the settlement as well: in 1928, a cell of the Hechaluc Pioneer was created, while in 1932, units of Beitar and Zionist Youth were called into being. In 1925, a Jewish library was opened and was run jointly by the Bundists and Zionists. Soon, however, a division occurred and two separate establishments were set up: a modest Bund library and the Chaim Nachman Bialik Zionist Library which took over most of the collection.
The Interest-free Loan Fund (Polish Bezprocentowa Kasa Pożyczkowa), Free Shelter Society (Polish Towarzystwo Darmowych Przytułków) and Jewish Cooperative Bank (Polish Żydowski Bank Spółdzielczy) were set up in the second half of the 1920s. A local weekly “Der Obserwator” appeared in press from 1929 up until the outbreak of World War II.
During the interwar period craftsmanship remained the main source of income for Jews still as well as door-to-door trade in the nearest villages. Most Jewish craftsmen were tailors, shoemakers and saddlers. In Dęblin-Irena there was a Jewish sawmill, a mill and a brewery. There were two Jewish doctors and one Jewish dentist in the town. Most Jews lived in hard financial conditions, many of them unemployed[1.1.2]. At that time Józef Piłsudski visited Dęblin and the local Jews greeted him with bread and salt.
In 1927, Dęblin had a population of 4,860, including 3,060 Jews (62%). The last rabbi of the community was Immanuel Gershon Rabinowich. He lost his life during World War II.
In the 1930s, as anti-Semite activity in Poland intensified, it was pointed out that many Jewish shops were direct competition to Polish trade. Therefore in 1936 – 1937, anti-Semite incidents took place in the town. Jewish stalls were destroyed and door-to-door salesmen were attacked.
Years of Occupation
When World War II broke out, many Jews sought shelter in the prayer house, and some left their houses and estates, escaping to villages nearby: Ryki, Puławy or Żelechów. The Germans entered Dęblin on 20 September 1939. During the first three weeks after the town was occupied, many inhabitants, both Jews and Poles, returned. In Żelechów, to which many Jews had escaped, Germans gathered the fugitives in the market place and ordered them to return to Dęblin.
After taking over the town, the Nazis ordered the Jews to gather in the market place, where the German commander made a speech full of terror and hatred. During the first days of occupation a contribution of 20,000 zlotys was imposed on Jews. At the same time the Germans started to kidnap Jews off the streets and from homes and send them to forced labor. Most of them were employed at clearing the town of rubble and removing animals killed during bombings.
At the beginning of 1940, the Nazis ordered Jews to wear an armband with the Jewish star. At that time most Jews still lived in their homes, except for the rich families whose houses were confiscated by the Germans. Jewish public buildings, the prayer house and community rooms were also impounded.
During that period the first Judenrat was created in Dęblin. It had 12 members and its head was a prominent pre-war community activist – merchant Lejzor Tajchman – the owner of an electrical shop and a shop with household goods. The remaining members of the Judenrat were among others: Izaak Żelechowski – the treasurer, Mojżesz Kamajn and Jozef Kanarienfogiel
At the beginning of 1940, the Judenrat sent to forced labor groups of 20 up to 50 men. In summer 1940, around 400 Jews were forced to work at rebuilding the airport adjoining the town. The Judenrat had its seat in Bankowa Street, with a Jewish police station next to it.
In August 1940, the Nazis created a ghetto for the Jewish population. It comprised the following streets: Bankowa, Okólna, Santurska, Wiatraczna, Niedbała and Paskudna. The ghetto was opened – it was neither fenced nor had any gates, but Jews, except for forced workers, were not allowed to leave the premises. Okólna and Santurska streets bordered the market place so Jews could easily buy food from Polish farmers. The bakery in Okólna Street was working and supplying the ghetto with bread according to demand.
In October 1940, Polish owners of colonial and grocery stores were granted permission to employ Jewish workers. Jews employed at the bakery were able to smuggle food into the ghetto. The practice lasted until October 1942.
At the turn of 1941-1942, as part of an operation that took part in the whole Poland, the Germans demanded that all Dęblin Jews hand over all fur coats and winter clothes. At the same time in a fortress near the town a camp for soviet prisoners of war was created (Stalag 307). The conditions in the camp were severe. Soon an epidemic of typhus burst out and it soon spread to the ghetto. The Germans agreed for two hospitals to be created in the settlement – one for Polish inhabitants, located in a school building in Sochackiego Street and another one in the ghetto for Jews. In the Jewish hospital medicines were always scarce, but Polish doctors sent there medicaments and other essentials that they received from Warsaw. The typhus epidemic was brought under control in May 1942.
In 1941-1942, the Germans set up five labor camps in the town and its surroundings: two in the neighborhood of the airport, one by the road to Mierziączka village, one near the freight terminal at the railway station and one created in 1942 in Lipowa Street. In the camp near the airport there were about 1,000 forced workers. Those were mostly Jews from Dęblin and villages in the vicinity. Around 300 Polish and Jewish workers labored in each of three camps; 200 people worked in the camp in Lipowa Street.
At the end of 1941 or at the beginning of 1942, the Germans dissolved the first Judenrat. They arrested Lejzor Tajchman and his co-workers, transported them to Wąwolnica and then murdered. Wolf Salomon became a new head of the Judenrat.
During the night of 5/6 May 1942, the Germans told the Judenrat to inform a group of Jews whose names were put in a previously prepared list that in the morning they were supposed to appear at the market place. The Jews from the list arrived at the scheduled place the following morning. On that day also Jews from Bobrowniki and Stężyca were relocated. The ghetto was surrounded by German military police officers, a Ukrainian unit and officers of the Blue Police (Granatowa Policja).
The deportation that took place was supervised by Johanes Peterson – a Volksdeutscher who was in charge of the local German military police. During the assembly 62 Jews, who were trying to escape, were murdered. The Jews were kept in the market place from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. At 2 o’clock selection started, which also involved the patients of the Jewish hospital who were brought to the assembly point. About 2,500 Jews who gathered in the market place were led along Warszawska Street to the railway station and next sent to a death camp in Sobibór. Wolf Salomon – the head of the second Judenrat – was among the deported. After the selection the remaining Jews returned to their homes. Once the procedure was completed, the Nazis appointed a new Judenrat, who was ordered to clear the bodies of the murdered people lying in the streets of the ghetto. The bodies were taken to the synagogue and then to the Jewish cemetery in Bobrowniki. About 1,000 Jews remained in the ghetto.
On 7 May 1942, a day after the first deportation, Jews from Ryki were relocated to the ghetto. After 12 days around 2,200 Jews from Slovakia were brought in. They were accommodated in the houses left by the Jews who had been transported to Sobibór. Those Jews, among whom there were many educated people as well as specialists, found it difficult to adapt to severe working conditions imposed by the Germans in the ghetto. Soon a new Judenrat was appointed, headed by Izrael Wajnberg – a former trader. After the first deportation the ghetto was turned into a labor camp. All inhabitants had to work every day either in the town or at the nearest airport[1.4].
The ghetto was dissolved on 15 October 1942. The German criminal police gathered about 2,500 people in front of their houses. Then they were herded to the railway station and sent to Treblinka[1.5]. During the assembly and deportation over 100 Jews were murdered. Altogether around 5,800 Jews passed through the ghetto.
Before relocation to Treblinka small groups of workers with their families were separated from the remaining Jews and taken to the labor camp near the airport. They were placed in barracks, from 250 to 300 people in each. The camp, situated along the edge of meadows near the Wieprz River, was surrounded by barbed wire. There were over 1,000 people in the camp, including 250 women and 100 children. The camp had its own Jewish administration, which was subordinate to the airport headquarters. There was health service and a nursery for small children. The Germans let the Jews have a small garden at the camp. The camp was directly subordinate to the airport headquarters. The German military police could enter the premises only after the headquarters gave them permission[1.6].
The workers constructed runways, worked at a sawmill (situated within the airport), and were employed at different maintenance jobs. The living conditions were not as severe as in other labor camps because the camp was not subordinate to the German army.
Towards the end of 1943, the conditions in the camp dramatically deteriorated. The food rations were reduced. It became a standard procedure to execute workers suspected of laziness or sabotage on the equipment and building structures. A Volksdeutscher from Silesia – Wyszyński – supervised the work of Jews. The head of Jews in the camp was Hermann Wenkrat – a Jew of German origin. He managed to make the camp authorities exclude from work a few Jewish women so that they could look after sick children. The women even organized lessons, during which children learned about Jewish history and celebrations. About 4,000 Jews passed through the camp.
In September 1943, the Germans liquidated the camp near the railway station and its inhabitants were transported to the Poniatowa labor camp located near Lublin. The camp at the airport was in use until 22 July 1944. As the Red Army was approaching Dęblin, the workers were taken to the labor camp that belonged to “Hesag” industrial concern – not far from Częstochowa. They were sent in two batches. The first consisted of men only, whereas the second one of women and children who stayed in the camp. The guards at the camp separated a few small children from the transport (mainly sick ones) and took them to a Jewish cemetery in Bobrowniki, where they were murdered[1.1.2]. Before the camp ceased to exist about 70 young Jews fled from it.
- Nasze miasteczko pod okupacją/Our Town Under Occupation (Memories From Before World War II) [as of 20 I 2009].
- Historia Mówiona/Oral History (Nasze miasteczko pod okupacją/Our town under occupation (Memories From Before World War II) [as of 20 I 2009].
- Galeria Alfabet Polski/Poland’s ABC Gallery (Photographs From Before World War II) [as of 20 I 2009].
- Kadysz dla nieobecnych/Kadish For The Departed (Photographs From Before World War II) [as of 20 I 2009].
- Zbiory NAC On-line/ National Digital Archives On-line Collection (Photographs From Before World War II) [as of 20 I 2009].
- Pinkas Hakehillot Polin (Yizkor Book, Polish version) [as of 20 I 2009].
- Pinkas Hakehillot Polin (Yizkor Book, English version) [as of 20 I 2009].
- Deblin-Modzjitz Book (Memory Book, English version) [as of 20 I 2009].
- New York Public Library - Yizkor Book 1969a (Yizkor Book, Hebrew version) [as of 20 I 2009].
- New York Public Library - Yizkor Book 1969b (Yizkor Book, Hebrew version) [as of 20 I 2009].
- The Central Database of Shoah [as of 20 I 2009].
- Yad Vashem Photo Archive (Photographs From Before World War II) [as of 20 I 2009].
- Yivo Institute For Jewish Research (Photographs From Before World War II) [as of 20 I 2009].
- [1.1] E. Bergman, J. Jagielski, Zachowane synagogi i domy modlitwy w Polsce, Warszawa 1996, p. 39.
- [1.2] Deblin-Irena, Pinkas Hakehillot Polin, translated by Andrzej Cieśla, http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/pinkas_poland/pol7_00139p.html, [as of 20 January 2009].
- [1.3] Dęblin-Irena [entry] in: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. I, New York 2001, p. 303.
- [1.1.2] [a] [b] Deblin-Irena, Pinkas Hakehillot Polin, translated by Andrzej Cieśla, http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/pinkas_poland/pol7_00139p.html, [as of 20 January 2009].
- [1.4] Deblin-Irena, Pinkas Hakehillot Polin, translated by Andrzej Cieśla, http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/pinkas_poland/pol7_00139p.html, [as of 20.1.2009].
- [1.5] K. Kurzyp, Dęblin. Szkice z dziejów..., p. 159.
- [1.6] Niewyjaśnione tajemnice twierdzy Dęblin, Twierdza Dęblin, http://twierdzadeblin.w.interia.pl/069.htm, [as of 20.1.2009].